(redirected from Oratorium)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.


(ôrətôr`ēō), musical composition employing chorus, orchestra, and soloists and usually, but not necessarily, a setting of a sacred libretto without stage action or scenery. The immediate forerunner of oratorio, Emilio del Cavaliere's sacred opera La rappresentazione di anima e di corpo applied the techniques of the newly created opera to the sacra rappresentazione, the Italian mystery play. Cavaliere's work was performed in 1600 in one of the buildings known as the oratories of St. Philip NeriPhilip Neri, Saint
, 1515–95, Italian reformer. His original name was Filippo Romolo de' Neri. From boyhood he was religious, and in 1533 he went to Rome to study.
..... Click the link for more information.
. Soon afterward there developed the oratorio volgare, also in Italian, which employed a testo, or narrator, to advance the action of the story. By c.1640 the term oratorio had come to stand for the work itself rather than the place in which it was given, and 10 years later the Latin oratorio was given definitive form in the works of Giacomo CarissimiCarissimi, Giacomo
, 1605–74, Italian composer. Most of his life was spent in Rome, where he wrote chamber cantatas in a style that lasted for over a century. His Latin oratorios, of which Jephtha
..... Click the link for more information.
. His style was carried to France by his pupil Marc Antoine Charpentier, but the oratorio did not flourish there. Carissimi's influence is also discernible in the oratorios of Heinrich SchützSchütz, Heinrich
, 1585–1672, German composer; pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli. From 1617 until his death he was director of music at the Dresden court. His first German work was his Psalmen Davids (1619), in which he used the new monodic, or declamatory, style.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and of Handel. After Carissimi the only outstanding Italian oratorios are those of his pupil Alessandro Scarlatti, of which 14 are known. Scarlatti included recitativerecitative
, musical declamation for solo voice, used in opera and oratorio for dialogue and for narration. Its development at the close of the 16th cent. made possible the rise of opera.
..... Click the link for more information.
 with developed arias in works that greatly resembled opera. Pietro MetastasioMetastasio, Pietro
, 1698–1782, Italian poet and librettist, whose original name was Antonio Bonaventura Trapassi. A prodigy at poetic improvisation, he became court poet at Vienna in 1729.
..... Click the link for more information.
 wrote a number of oratorios, several of which were set more than once. In Germany settings of the Passion assumed greater importance than the true oratorio, but the oratorios of Schütz are equaled only by those of J. S. Bach and Handel. Handel inaugurated the English oratorio, and his Messiah, although atypical among his own usually epic oratorios, became the prototype for the works of many later composers. Haydn's two great oratorios show the influence of Handel. Mendelssohn's highly dramatic Elijah and St. Paul exerted a strong influence, particularly in England, where the oratorio enjoyed great vogue throughout the 19th cent. A long succession of mediocre works, including several popular examples by Sir Arthur Sullivan, was followed by the more notable ones of Elgar and Walford Davies. Wagner, Liszt, Dvořák, Berlioz, and Franck all wrote romantic oratorios. In the 20th cent. Honegger's King David (1921) and Dance of the Dead (1940), Stravinsky's opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927), Hindemith's Das Unaufhörliche (1931), William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast (1931), and Britten's War Requiem (1961) are noteworthy.


See G. P. Upton, The Standard Oratorios (1888); P. M. Young, The Oratorios of Handel (1949); H. E. Smither, A History of the Oratorio (1987).



a major, usually multipart musical work for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra, which generally has a dramatic theme but which is designed for performance in concert rather than on stage. The oratorio is similar to the cantata, differing only in its greater length and more definite theme. It originated in Italy at the turn of the 17th century and was influenced by the opera and madrigal.

The oratorio with a Latin text took shape as a fusion of several liturgical motets, and the oratorio with an Italian text developed out of dramatized laude in dialogue form. At first, liturgical motets and laude were performed in special premises designed for prayer, services, discussion of sermons, and singing of sacred songs. These premises were called oratories—the term from which the name of the new genre was derived. In the sacred oratorio a biblical story performed by a soloist was combined with sections cast in dialogue form and choral sections. In Italy, the Latin oratorio reached the height of its development in the 17th century. By the beginning of the 18th century it had been almost completely replaced by the Italian oratorio. G. Carissimi and A. Scarlatti were the greatest masters of the Latin oratorio, and B. Pasquini, F. M. Veracini, A. Veracini, G. Arresti, G. Gabrieli, G. Legrenzi, G. Bononcini, and A. Stradella excelled in the composition of Italian oratorios.

In the Italian oratorio, the solo sections, recitatives, and da capo arias acquired increasing importance in the 18th century. The oratorio became similar to opera and was sometimes performed on stage. Many 18th-century Italian opera composers wrote oratorios, including A. Scarlatti, G. Pergolesi, D. Cimarosa, B. Galuppi, G. Paisiello, and A. Salieri. The German, Austrian, and French oratorios developed in the 18th century, and a special form, the passion, emerged.

G. F. Handel’s oratorios, which were written in England in the 1730’s and 1740’s, made a great contribution to the development of the genre. They united the German, the English, and, to some extent, the Italian tradition. Of outstanding importance in Handel’s creative work are his heroic oratorios with biblical texts, in which the chief motive force is the people (Israel in Egypt, the Messiah, Samson, and Judas Maccabeus). Handel also composed oratorios on texts from classical mythology. Among J. S. Bach’s works is the Christmas Oratorio. An important stage in the development of the oratorio is associated with the creative work of Haydn. Composed at the end of the 18th century, his oratorios (The Creation, The Seasons) were enriched by instrumental symphonic resources and were intended for performance not in church but in the concert hall. In the 19th century, oratorios were composed by F. Mendelssohn, H. Berlioz, F. Liszt, R. Schumann (Paradise and the Peri), C. Saint-Saëns, J. Massenet, C. Franck, C. Debussy, E. Elgar, and R. Vaughan Williams, and in the 20th century, by A. Honegger (Joan of Arc at the Stake) and E. H. Meyer (Mansfelder Oratorium).

The first Russian oratorio, Degtiarev’s Minin and Pozharskii, or Moscow Liberated, was composed in 1811. During the Soviet period, the oratorio has developed greatly and has become the favored genre for the artistic reflection of important sociohistorical events and for the comprehensible and effective presentation of significant themes. Soviet oratorios include Emel’ian Pugachev by Koval’, Tale of the Battle for the Russian Land by Shaporin, Guarding the Peace by Prokofiev, Oratorio Pathétique by Sviridov, and The Maiden and Death by Galynin.


Rozenov, E. K. Ocherk istorii oratorii. Moscow, 1910.
Khokhlovkina, A. Sovetskaia oratoriia i kantata. Moscow, 1955.
Shirinian, R. Oratoriia i kantata. Moscow, 1960.
Schering, A. Geschichte des Oratoriums. Leipzig, 1911.
Blanchi, L. I grandi dell’ oratoria. Milan, 1964.


a dramatic but unstaged musical composition for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, based on a religious theme
References in periodicals archive ?
Boekkooi, P "Oratorium oor skepping oorrompel die sinne." Beeld.
"Fotos Die Skepping 'n Oratorium." Deon Opperman: Official Site.
"Skeppersnotas" in die programboekie tot Die Skepping: 'n Oratorium, 16 en 17 Feb.